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LI YMCAs in jeopardy, may not bring back furloughed employees

Without a timetable to reopen their fitness facilities,

Without a timetable to reopen their fitness facilities, Long Island's YMCAs, including the Huntington location, shown here, continue to suffer severe financial losses.   Credit: Danielle Silverman

Long Island YMCAs are continuing to suffer severe financial losses that have now led to the furlough of the majority of their staff – some perhaps permanently – and forced them to grapple with the threat of closure.

In a memo dated Aug. 6, YMCA of Long Island president and CEO Anne Brigis informed staff that those furloughed will have to reapply for their jobs and that “every position added to our staff roster must drive revenue and impact.” Many of the YMCA’s money-making programs, like fitness classes and day camps, either remain closed due to the pandemic, or are severely limited. That in turn has led to less money for other programs and staff.  Overall, New York state’s  YMCAs have lost more than $117 million  in revenue since March, Brigis said in a subsequent statement to Newsday.  

Prior to the pandemic, Long Island YMCAs employed 1,007 part-time and 140 full-time workers, and serviced 65,000 members. 

“Each month we are closed results in a devastating financial loss, which may force Y branches across Long Island to close,” Brigis said in the statement. “Never has there been so much uncertainty as to the YMCA’s sustainability.”

There are eight YMCAs on Long Island which, prior to the pandemic, offered a long list of services, including childcare, mental health counseling, and senior social and physical wellness programs. Currently, they’re only operating childcare for essential workers, a summer day camp held at 20% capacity, outdoor fitness classes, and lap swimming. Extended childcare is expected to be reintroduced on Sept. 13, the YMCA said. The majority of the Long Island YMCAs’ funding is provided by membership dues – many of which are on hold – and donations.

There is currently no state-sanctioned reopening plan, but Brigis said that as additional programs get added, more staff will be hired.

“With no timeline on when the Y can reopen, we may be forced to close branches and make program cuts that will negatively impact Long Island communities,” Brigis said in the statement.  “[We] are very concerned about our future ability to provide these services to those who need it most.”

At the crux of the matter is the nonprofit’s health and fitness services, which, along with other gyms statewide, are not being allowed to operate due to the threat of COVID-19. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said last week that gyms were “highly problematic” when it came to the virus, and that there was currently no plan to reopen them. He pointed to other states which have opened gyms only to be forced to close them. “We’re precariously perched…in a sea of spread,” Cuomo said of New York. “But it’s only a function of our intelligence and discipline.”

Brigis and the YMCA, however, argue that classifying the YMCA as a gym fails to encompass the nonprofit’s service model, and that the state hasn’t provided enough evidence to indicate that fitness facilities contribute to the spread of COVID-19. Data from 1,500 YMCAs nationwide have shown no reported outbreaks, with a few isolated exposures since reopening, she said. 

“With the fitness side of things being closed and us being unable to get into the building, it does put in danger all the other work we do because that’s [what generated] a lot of the funds that funded [these other] programs that don’t make a lot of money, childcare programs and other family services” said Rob Totaro, associate director of member advancement at the Alliance of New York State YMCAs. 

Brigis believes they can operate safely with new safety protocols in place, staff retraining, prescreening, space for physical distancing and new air filters. 

"We know from peer Ys open across the country that capacity issues are nonexistent and easy to manage," she said. "We track specific times each person enters [and] leaves our facilities, screen each person when they arrive, [and] have always had high standards of cleaning...We are positioned to operate more safely than most businesses." 

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